Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? (Matt. 21:42 NRSV)
The people of Israel in ancient days were well aware of the critical importance of cornerstones. The psalmist evokes their image in Psalm 118, a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”
A cornerstone binds things together; it connects what otherwise would be divided. It is a universally appealing image because a sense of alienation bedevils us all. The world’s literature is filled with the anguished cries of those who have experienced the despair of loneliness and separation. History is littered with the corpses of fallen warriors whose lives were lost in armed struggles with enemies long forgotten. Our human psychology is riddled with the pain of disintegration as we fail to connect our public persona with our hidden shadow self. We despair when we no longer sense the presence of God in our lives.
Out of our alienation, we seek something transcendent to make us whole. At the heart of the Christian gospel lies a longing for connection, for being in proper relationship with our fellow creatures and with our loving Creator.
The apostle Paul uses the word righteousness to mean a right relationship between God and humankind. He explains how he once had tried to achieve a sense of connection with God through the dint of his own efforts, striving to obey every particular of the law from Moses onward. But eventually Paul realises there is simply no way he can achieve this desired connection by pulling himself up by his own bootstraps. He regards all his earlier efforts as worthless, as rubbish. He becomes convinced it is through faith in Jesus Christ, and this alone, that he is brought into true righteousness. By accepting the Spirit of Christ into his heart of hearts, he becomes connected to the great God of the universe. Elsewhere Paul describes this as “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages … but has now been revealed … which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
This is the essential message Jesus teaches in a parable about a vineyard owner and his tenants. They want to acquire land belonging to the owner, to inherit what is due the owner’s son. They try to get what they want through their own efforts, by killing the representatives of the owner and then by killing the owner’s son. Not surprisingly, their ill-conceived plan fails miserably. After finishing his parable, Jesus asks: “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” Jesus directs his question at the religious leaders of the day, and he warns that by rejecting him they are rejecting membership in the kingdom of God. Jesus here unmistakably identifies himself as the rejected cornerstone, as the one who offers connection, unity, transcendence.
Jesus Christ is the connection we seek with the Divine, a connection conveyed by countless images in the Bible: a vine, a ladder, a gateway, a doorway, a cornerstone. Once connected, we offer prayers of joyful thanksgiving to our Creator for the one who came “to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.”
Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our lives, binding us into a unified whole and connecting us with the one who made us and who loves us beyond measure, now and forevermore.
James J. Rawls. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2018), 64 The Cornerstone.